Knowing your colon cancer risk factors helps you maintain healthy habits and have more educated conversations with your health care provider about colon cancer screening. You can’t change some risk factors, but others are within your control.
Board-certified colon and rectal surgeon Lisa A. Perryman, MD, FACS, FASCRS at Colorado Colon & Rectal Specialists in Parker, Colorado, specializes in surgical and non-surgical treatment of conditions that affect the colon and rectum. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer, with over 100,000 new cases diagnosed each year.
In the past, age 50 was the recommended age to begin colon cancer screening. Today, colon cancer occurence in people under age 50 has increased, leading to new guidelines. It’s wise to learn the factors that put you at risk and take proactive steps to protect your colon health.
Non-modifiable risk factors
Non-modifiable risk factors are those that you can’t control. When it comes to colon cancer, factors outside of your control that raise your risk are:
The majority of colon cancers develop after the age of 50 (unless there is a family history of the disease or a hereditary cause). However, there has been an alarming increase in colon cancer rates among individuals as young as their 20s and 30s in recent years. The new guidelines recommend that you begin screening for colon cancer at age 45 if you’re at average risk and earlier if you’re at an elevated risk.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) History
Colon cancer is linked to inflammatory bowel diseases, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. If you have IBD, talk to Dr. Perryman about how to monitor your colon health and when you should screen for colon cancer.
Cancer Runs in the Family
If you have a family history of colon cancer, you're at a higher risk. The same is true if there is family history of polyps.
That means a close relative, such as a parent or sibling, was diagnosed with colon cancer before the age of 50, or several family members have been diagnosed with colon or other types of cancer, or polyps.
Modifiable risk factors
The following are risk factors you can take steps to change:
- Lack of exercise – Sedentary behavior raises the risk of several cancers, including colon cancer
- Obesity – A higher BMI is linked to an increased risk of developing colon cancer
- Eating habits – Current research consistently links eating more red meat and processed meat to a higher colon cancer risk. A low-fiber diet is also associated with an increased colon cancer risk
- Smoking – Smokers are more likely to die from colorectal cancer than nonsmokers
- Excess alcohol consumption – Moderate-to-heavy alcohol consumption hikes up the risk for colon cancer
Protecting against colon cancer
Here are some important ways to reduce your risk of colon cancer:
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Eat plenty of fruits, veggies, and high-fiber foods
- Limit high-fat foods
- Don't smoke
- Avoid drinking too much alcohol
- Begin colon cancer screening at the age of 45 (sooner if recommended) and screen on a regular basis
It can seem overwhelming if you feel that you have many things to change at once. It’s important to know that making small changes over time can have a major impact on lowering your risk of diseases.
Come in to see us if you’re concerned about or have questions about your colon cancer risk. Reach out to our office today by phone or book online to schedule a visit with Dr. Perryman.